Unanderra fire fighter's family still homeless a week on from devastating house fire

GOODIES: Cohan Balzan, 11, with goodies donated by Second Life Stationery, with (back) John and Lani Balzan, Natalie Wall and Shari Kelly. Picture: Robert Peet

GOODIES: Cohan Balzan, 11, with goodies donated by Second Life Stationery, with (back) John and Lani Balzan, Natalie Wall and Shari Kelly. Picture: Robert Peet

A week on from the “worst day of their lives’’ the Balzans are still homeless but thankful to those in the community who have supported them after an electrical fire destroyed their Figtree family home.

Unanderra firefighter John Balzan is particularly thankful to his ‘’brothers in arms’’ from the Unanderra fire station who have gone above and beyond in supporting the family-of-six in their time of need.

Mr Balzan, wife Lani, their three children and Lani’s sister were returning from Sydney on Friday, September 17 when they received a phone call from a neighbour telling them the Figtree home they had rented for the past three years was on fire.

GUTTED: Unanderra firefighter John Balzan and wife Lani are facing an uncertain future after a fire that started outside ripped through their home. Picture: Adam McLean

GUTTED: Unanderra firefighter John Balzan and wife Lani are facing an uncertain future after a fire that started outside ripped through their home. Picture: Adam McLean

By the time they got home the Cameron Place house and most of their treasured possessions were destroyed.

MESS: Figtree couple Lani and John Balzan survey the damage at the back of their Cameron Place home which was badly damaged by fire. Picture: Adam McLean

MESS: Figtree couple Lani and John Balzan survey the damage at the back of their Cameron Place home which was badly damaged by fire. Picture: Adam McLean

‘’It was heartbreaking but the support since has been tremendous, particularly from the Unanderra Fire and Rescue crew’’ Mr Balzan said.

‘’Everything that they’ve got, they have given to us..their homes, their food and even their clothes.

‘’We don’t have family nearby so the crew at Unanderra are my family. Without them we'd be lost, wandering the streets, sleeping in our car or pitching a tent if we could get one.’’

Dmarto’s in Unanderra, Surfpit Corrimal, Figtree Public School and Second Life Stationery have also helped the family greatly.

‘’It’s been a distressing week for our children who have had nightmares about the fire,’’ Mr Balzan said. ‘’It has also been traumatic for Lani and I because we haven’t been able to comfort them because we’ve been busy trying to obtain housing.’’ 

For Mrs Balzan, an accomplished Aboriginal artist who designed St George Illawarra Dragons indigenous guernsies and won the 2016 national NAIDOC poster competition, being away from her children this past week has been heartbreaking.

‘’That’s been the toughest part…..I also feel that a bit of me has gone, probably because it wasn’t just the NAIDOC poster [destroyed in the fire], it was part of my identity,’’ she said. 

The Balzans did not have contents insurance and have lost almost everything, including all of Lani’s artwork and equipment.

A Fire and Rescue NSW spokesman said a faulty air-conditioner located outside was believed to have caused the fire.

Mr Balzan said the air conditioner, the cable leading to the unit and the wall it was attached to, was thrown away before proper investigations could be completed.

Diana Foye of Foye Legal is representing the Balzans on a pro bono basis, advising them of their legal rights.

‘’We do not know who directed the removal of the unit but our lawyer is looking into this,’’ he said.

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